There was lots of celebration following Virginia Democrats' performance in last year's legislative elections in the Commonwealth, and I'm not here to try to diminish that success in any way. By gaining seats in the Senate and damn near taking the House, the party served notice for the midterms and raised the profile of some incredibly impressive public servants in the process.
But just in case we needed a stark reminder that our work only began last November, we got it yesterday, when Senate Republicans reminded us that even the most narrow of majorities is still a majority:
The Republican-controlled Virginia Senate voted Tuesday to repeal an old law banning guns — as well as bowie knives, daggers and other weapons — from places of worship.
Sen. A. Benton Chafin Jr. (R-Russell) said the “archaic law,” thought to date to Colonial times, treads on the private-property rights of churches. He also said it threatens the safety of worshipers, noting the massacre of 26 people at a Texas church in November.
“For any of us to sit here and think that when a gunman comes to you that a law is going to somehow protect you is sheer lunacy,” Chafin said during the floor debate.
It's hard to tell what's more galling - the fact that this is Chafin and the GOP's natural response to a massacre in a church in Texas, or the idea that their best idea when it comes to how to keep children and old people safe when they attend services is to fill the church with guns.
The good news is that our hard-won races may still matter in the end. Gov. Ralph Northam, swept into office by the same wave that broke just short of the legislative beachhead, has vowed to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk. This isn't only good for those of us who think more guns in more hands in more places isn't ideal, but also for the places of worship this bill ostensibly seeks to protect, who - unsurprisingly - don't seem interested in being "protected" in this manner:
The four Jewish federations that represent parts of Virginia jointly oppose the bill and have urged their members to contact their representatives to oppose it, said Steven Wendell, executive director of the United Jewish Community of the Virginia Peninsula.
Wendell said the Senate’s decision was likely made with the idea of “protecting innocent lives,” but that won’t be the result of this bill, he said. Instead, it will make it harder for churches to turn away people who have guns, “infringing upon our rights,” he said.
“I am baffled particularly by Republicans — who are usually not in favor of additional legislation — now opening the door up for people to walk into institutions with guns and claim that they are now given that right by the commonwealth, and making it harder for the institution to prohibit them,” Wendell said. “I think this is a public safety issue, and I think it increases the risk for public safety.”
In fact, the only people who do seem to think this is a good idea are Republicans, who passed the bill on a straight party-line vote. Not one Democrat, no matter how rural their district, was on board.
The bill now goes to the Virginia House of Delegates where, thanks to a name being drawn out of a hat, Republicans have a one-seat majority.